Why Homes Aren't Affordable

In order to build homes today, small operators can’t get land entitlements. The reason for this is because cities now demand private builders pay for roads and parks in advance, and build them at the same time as the homes are built. This is extremely costly, and hardly anyone can play this game. And what gets built with this “smart growth” is not a natural flow of landowners everywhere electing when to sell to a homebuilder, and the market pouring development into the natural nooks and crannies. Instead, our cities make painstakingly negotiated and litigated, massive leaps, each one involving massive compounds of densely packed homes, usually surrounded by 12 foot masonary walls. Each of these “planned communities”can involve hundreds of millions in financing and take many decades to realize a return, adhering to ever-changing, endless regulations determined by committees and bureaucrats and politicians. Is this any way to settle the wide and beautiful lands of California?

So within the “urban service boundaries,” city and county governments force “infill” developments that congest the roads and destroy rural suburbs, and outside of these arbitrary walls, you have to pay for a whole city in advance if you want to build. This is a perversion of natural growth. Plenty of people are still going to want to live in the new highrises of downtown urban centers, you don’t have to legislate and litigate everything to squeeze sixty million people into this huge state. In the good old days, cities widened the roads and developed the parks years later. Nobody had “Mello Roos” fees to pay – property taxes by any other name. So what if there wasn’t a park for thirty years, or ever, people had nice backyards to play in, and grow trees. With low density, the cost to build smart freeways is much lower. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect, just green.

Today it doesn’t matter if you are in a “planned community” outside the urban service boundary, or “infill” within, all of the housing has to be ultra high-density. Natural development would have “low density” followed by genuine low density followed by small ranchettes, then ranchettes and farms, and so on. Of course natural waterways would not be exposed to toxins, and housing would not pollute. But there could exist genuine amd myriad and painless new countryside developments where single-home lots were at least one acre each. This is not something everyone wants – that is a lot of yard to take care of – but homes with large lots – even small homes on large lots – should be available to those who want them. Eventually around crossroads in these low density suburbs town centers form on their own. This is how land is settled. It follows the contours of the earth, it spreads out evenly, not in litigated leaps.

Instead these planned communities and infill developments are walled compounds, with “low density” packing as many as 8 homes to the acre. The irony is the staggering opportunity cost of this mandated, inorganic growth, when totally green cars are just around the corner, and totally green buildings are pretty much here today, and off-grid living is taking off. California in general, and Sacramento in particular, has abundant open space that is currently floodplain, or farmland, or rangeland, or foothills, that could spread from Mt. Shasta to the Kern River, a great new sprawling city of greenbelts and green ‘burbs, gentlemen farmers on private land, moms and dads in homes on large lots. The finest low density megacity in the history of human civilization. Green cars will drive themselves in a few more years, and hitch rides on high-speed trains into the high-rise urban centers.

There is room for all of this in California’s future, smart high speed trains, dams, reservoirs, powerplants, aquaducts, canals, nuclear powered desalination plants, aquifer infrastructure, smart freeways, solar power, high rises and rail. But to finance this, we have to fiscally reengineer our government. We have to require all taxpayer, government administered benefits for all workers to be the same, regardless of whether one works in the public sector or the private sector. Every worker has to get the same deal. This would encourage cross-pollination of personnel between the public and private sector. It would make American private industry more competitive. It would alleviate much of the misunderstanding between the public and private sectors. It would pass the crucible of public policy to focus on immigration and demographic policy and what defines a working American citizen. It would ease the imperative for public agencies to enact policies that increase home prices to increase property tax revenue. It would restore fiscal solvency to public institutions and allow the financing of everything we need to rebuild in green our physical plant.

Denying every landowner the right to build homes on their land should end. All landowners should be allowed to build green homes. Low density development has a low carbon footprint and a cooling thermal effect, since cars are going green and large home lots have room for tree canopy. By allowing the “footprint” of cities to expand, the supply of homes is increased, and prices drop.

4 Responses to “Why Homes Aren't Affordable”
  1. Chris says:

    What I am basically hearing is that you want your huge McMansion on a huge grass lot with a couple of trees and to carve this out of nature. You are telling us that by planting a couple of trees on your big lot that makes up for the 30 or 40 that you had to tear down to build the lot and who cares about the animals that made there homes in these forested areas. Ranchettes, small farm type areas where the rich get to have a couple of horses and tear down all of the natural vegetation.

    To be really smart hear is to create high-density urban areas. Remove the need to drive your cars for hours every day. All electric cars are still many years away, eco-energy is still decades away. And did you realize the extent that the human population is growing. If every lived on a couple of acres of land then you would have to create a huge infrastructure of roads as you would have to travel farther and farther to get to the urban center to get to the jobs.

    Urban sprawl kills wildlife by destroying ecosystems to build your manicured lawns. You want a backyard; how much time do you spend in your backyard? An hour or two a day? Couldn’t a high-rise apartment have a park that would take care of those needs and for a greater number of people in a much more efficient manner? How about green buildings. Put a park on the roof of the high-rise, you get many people in a small land area with greenspace, water retention, and the cooling effect of green on top. High density urban areas are not suburban areas they are high-rise apartment homes with mixed-use architecture.

    Your argument seems derived from aristocratic snobbery, bent of having a pretty yard and getting rid of all those nature things that irritate your BMWs. Are you a real estate developer who wants to make sure they get to build cheap homes at outrageous prices to create huge incomes for yourself? Stop writing this drivel and go get an education. Help the world’s population explosion and CO2 creation. Take yourself out of the equation. You want a nice big piece of property to live on. Try the moon.

  2. Ed Ring says:

    Chris: I don’t want a McMansion, I don’t even like McMansions. And anyone who wants huge house should pay the market rate for all those materials and all that work. I don’t want a BMW, either. An inexpensive used economy car is fine.

    My point is that land values are distorted, where land within some politically determined “urban service boundary” is worth $300K per acre, and land just outside this arbitrary line is worth $30,000 per acre. What I want is to see land prices increase based on actual value, not political inventions. That, plus fiscal reform of the public sector, would make homes affordable again.

    Nobody is saying we shouldn’t have areas we protect for wildlife. But treating all open space as sacred and cramming people into ultra high density housing arrangements is cruel to anyone who prefers to have a yard. Plenty of people prefer high-rise living, but those of us who don’t should not have to be super rich to have a decent sized yard for our children to play.

  3. Chris says:

    Land prices and home prices are a pretty much a direct result of market price not politically determined “urban service boundary” lines. If people want to live in California then they should be willing to pay for it. If you don’t or can’t pay for it then you shouldn’t live in California. Try one of the other 48 states. I do not live in California but I am planning on moving there in the next couple of years. The demand for homes is greater in California and so the home prices are greater. It would be even worse if you reduced the “Ultra-Dense Urban” structure then you would have to have fewer homes using a greater amount of space. This would drive up home prices from a supply-demand perspective and also from an infrastructure stand-point.

    You speak of high speed trains but the cost for these train in enormous and they only serve people in a small range near the train terminals. Your low-density residential sprawl would cover to great of an area to make this mass transportation fiscally feasible. So then a reliance on private transportation becomes inevitable and this requires a great infrastructure of roads and highway and greatly contributes to noxious emissions. Retail would suffer due to needing a such a large area to create enough of a consumer base to support the businesses.

    If you truly want to create lower home and land prices, reduce environmental impact, reduce pollution, and reduce area temperatures, then create more and higher density urban environments. By creating Higher-density, “well designed” (Keyword), green residential near urban/commercial centers this can reduce the need for private vehicles thereby reducing pollution, reducing home prices by create more supply than demand, and leaving more area for Rural areas. The biggest hurdle is the poor design of current cities makes it extremely costly to rebuild these areas to accommodate more efficient housing units. Again you want a yard for you children to play in then a well designed Urban apartment could utilize the roof space to provide a playground/park area for this purpose. And would facilitate your children to be able to play with their friends. By using proper building security then you can actually make these “parks” safer for you children then a back yard in a suburban neighborhood.

    In your “low-density suburban” scenario you would not be able to get enough families together in a reasonable space to get a good enough cross-section of people for your children to find friends without having to travel 2 or 3 miles to get to their house. And instead of using two acres to have two homes for only two families, a properly designed apartment can house 30-40 families in the same space and make it easier to get to schools, shopping, and employment. By using proper urban planning, proper design of housing units, and efficient public transportation we can reduce our need to private transportation and make urban landscapes beautiful and welcoming. My design would utilize apartment homes of 2000 -2500 sq ft, roof tops that are utilized for either parks or solar installations, densely packed near bus/train lines that would link to another nearby area that would contain the commercial districts that would also be densely packed to make use of nearby bus/train terminals. Reducing commuting time, reducing pollution, reducing land prices by utilizing the land area more efficiently. The only true way to reduce land prices is to use the land area more efficiently. For the most part the land is not getting any bigger, but the population is still growing. The only true solution is to go up and build high-density urban living units and not sububan sprawl.

  4. Ed Ring says:

    Chris: I like your designs. I think these designs will happen naturally. I believe, as I said, that within the culturally rich core of large cities, there are millions of people who want to live in high rises.

    You might consider what happens, however, when government mandated high-density islands of infill destroy the ambience of existing semi-rural suburbs, and greenbelts prohibit development concentric to the city and suburbs. What happens, and this has been demonstrated, is “exurbs” grow much faster. So it happens, ironically, that trying to legislate high density can actually have the opposite effect, and destroy the quality of life for millions in the process.


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